You used to play tennis with my parents every Friday. Though they always said I wasn’t allowed snacks between meals, they always made an exception when you were around- we would crouch by the dinner table, crunching crisps and trading tales. Sean would come over too, and I was astounded that you would allow him to stay up beyond twelve because he wasn’t a big girl of seven like me. But I didn’t complain. It just meant that we could play house and Power Rangers for as long as we wanted, fighting crime and playing pretend throughout the night. He would routinely collapse onto our couch; you would hoist him up effortlessly and carry him all the way to your car. I would stand at the doorway, waving goodbye, wishing that Friday wasn’t over and that it would soon be time to see you again.
You worked with my parents and at you were the emcee and host at their first annual dinner. You captured the crowd with your sardonic humour and slapstick jokes, with a smile and a laugh and a pointed comment someone’s way. I remember absolutely nothing of that night except the dancing with pom-poms, twenty-five chocolate cakes, and a strong, burning, desire to learn to wow audiences and mesmerize masses just like you. Perhaps I did, years later, when I came third in the state for a public speaking competition- I didn’t realise it at the time, but you were my reason, you were my inspiration, and probably why I even aspired to try.
Once, when I was eight or nine, you asked me what I would do if you were a strange man. You asked me to picture a scenario where you sashayed up to me at school, and you tried to convince me that you knew my parents. I said that you were being silly, because you did know my parents, you were a friend, and had been for so long that to imagine otherwise would be ridiculous. But you stubbornly refused to budge until I had given you a sufficient answer, and I too refused to back down, not wanting to face a reality where people could be cruel and strangers wore masks. I couldn’t stand the prospect of not being friends with someone who wore your kind face, your upturned smile, and your jolly voice; surely even the world of adults wouldn’t be so harsh.
I saw you less after the illness hit. Our Friday night sessions came to a screeching halt, and when my parents went to visit you, we were told to stay home to let you recover. Though they didn’t deprive us from your presence for long; in between bouts of recuperation we would all gather, just like old times, and snack around our dinner table cracking peanuts and cracking jokes. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether you had always carried that undertone of cynicism to your humour, that tone of tiredness to your laugh. Whether it was cancer that was taking its toll on you, or if I had simply grown old enough to realise the truth. Or perhaps it took you- the entertainer, the charmer- perhaps it took you falling sick for me to learn that life could be brutal to even the very wise.
Yet you watched me grow from a chubby child to a terrible teen, and left me with words of sagely advice before I was university-bound. My encounters with you became limited to when I was back home for the holidays, and each time my parents dropped me off at your house, they warned me that this might be the last. They spoke those words at least three times, perhaps four, and considering I wasn’t home very often I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that you had exceeded all expectations. But August was the last time we truly had the chance to talk.
We spoke of trials and tests and growing up, of hopes and dreams of living large. You revealed that all the aunties and uncles had helped each other brainstorm through our growing pains, and that you understood our psyche like the back of your hand. You asked me about living, I asked you about life, and all of a sudden you paused, frowned, and asked me about God. Whether I believed in Heaven, whether I believed in Him, and if I had thought about what it would be like when it was time to depart. Had it crossed my mind?
People don’t have a soul, you explained. We are souls, and our bodies are no more than temporary vessels that bind us to earthly constraints. When they find that they are no longer capable of housing us, we are set free- to a greater beyond, a land far more magical and beautiful than our wildest dreams. Your eyes were tired and your body was weak, and I couldn’t help but be struck with the truth that soon this was a reality you would have to face. And I know you are there now, because you believed it would happen. You’re there now, in that better place, with as many chips and peanuts and bowls of mee as you can devour. Don’t finish all the food though, because we aren’t at the dinner table yet- we aren’t supposed to snack between meals, but I’m sure we can make an exception when we’re all together once again.
Wei Yun will have her next bowl of Hokkien mee in Uncle C.S’s honour when she goes home.
Image taken from here